The long-running battle between camera companies is something that will always exist. Forums and article comment sections will always have some type of argument about who has the better high ISO or dynamic range, how Canon has better color than Nikon or why full frame is better than a crop sensor. But when it comes to how a camera company treats the end user, I think everyone could learn a lesson from Fujifilm.
When I first started shooting professionally, I had a Sony A900 DSLR. After a while, different Sony models would come out that had some features I would have liked to have. Sony forums started to fill with the hopes and dreams of a firmware update being released to add these features, but nothing ever came. Later on in my career, I made the switch to the Nikon D750 and started to see the exact same conversations. People would build up hypothetical wish lists of bugs they wished could be fixed or features they wanted to have added. Every once in a while, an update would be announced and the rumor mills would spin with hopeful possibilities. Unfortunately, more times than not, this update would simply be a small bug fix or some type of compatibility update to add support for a new lens.
This practice seemed to be standard across the board. Canon users even resorted to firmware hacks in an effort to unlock and add various features to their cameras. The worst of the offenders is Sony with their A7 series cameras. Here, standard features in most cameras such as time-lapse and multiple exposure have to be purchased from an app store.
While most camera manufacturers dealt this way, Fujifilm released the original X100 in March of 2011. Like most cameras, it wasn't perfect. But one thing they did differently was offered free firmware updates. These updates not only fixed bugs and added needed compatibility updates, but also added features and improved the overall performance of the camera. Fujifilm was so dedicated to supplying an amazing product to their users, that they even released a major update almost four years after the initial release of the camera. This update came even after the camera had been discontinued and the updated model (X100S) had been announced and released. Even though these updates had the possibility to deter current X100 users from updating to the new model, they did it anyway.
This update practice has since been applied to all their X-series cameras. Even newer released cameras such as the X-Pro2 and X-T2 have seen major updates in features and speed. Things like adding 4K video recording, extending ISO ranges, changing an unchangeable button into an Fn button, and even updating the AF tracking algorithm that doubled the cameras tracking speed. For other manufacturers, updates such as these have simply been released as a new camera model and forced users to update their camera in order to use them.
Another great thing about this business practice is that when you buy a camera, you know that the features and performance are only going to get better. This is extremely helpful when it comes to GAS (gear acquisition syndrome). When the X-Pro2 was released, it was the best Fuji had to offer. But not much later, the X-T2 was released. This new model had things like better autofocus tracking, more advanced continuous AF tracking customizations, and 4K video. Instead of lusting after the new model, X-Pro2 users simply had to sit back and wait for their firmware update. And in true Fuji fashion, that update came with these missing features plus more that were added to both models.
From the camera manufacturer's point of view, I have to assume it’s difficult to know exactly what the end user would like to see in their cameras. Manufacturers do their best to make an overall good design, but the ability to see what the majority of users want to be changed after release, then apply it to that exact camera is an amazing benefit. It not only gives them the ability to refine older designs but also lets them fine-tune new features. Sites like Fuji Rumors regularly build firmware update wish lists and it has been confirmed that members of Fuji staff actually read this site and sees the lists generated by the users. Polls taken on the site have actually been used in Fuji presentations.
While the Fuji Update practice is obviously beneficial to the end user, at a quick glance, it would seem to hurt the overall sales of new models. For example, consider the case of the X100 getting an update even after the release on the X100S. Some users could see this as a reason why it wouldn't be worth upgrading. But for me, these updates give me more confidence in purchasing new models. If I was moving from the X100 to the X100S, I could see the overall benefits the upgrade offered and know that things would only get better. For the users not ready to upgrade, they are not going to upgrade either way. Instead, these updates simply give them an overall better camera and solidify their loyalty so that they are more likely to buy another Fuji when they are ready for a new camera.
I imagine that the main reason most manufacturers don't use this update practice is due to the extra cost of research and development. Once new firmware updates are designed, there is also the added expense of testing for bugs and fixing any issues that arise during that process. I think one of the key reasons that allow Fuji to minimize this cost is due to the fact that most cameras within a release year use a lot of the same internals (sensor, processor, AF, etc). So, when the X-T2 was released with new features, it was an easier task to port them over to the older X-Pro2 because they are so similar in terms of internal parts.
I realize that most manufacturers can't and won't implement this type of updating due to the added expense. But seeing how Fuji has been able to implement this successfully should give other camera makers the insights that it is possible and could benefit their overall user experience and loyalty.
How do you feel about your current camera companies' use of firmware updates? If your camera got an update tomorrow, what would you like to see? Do you think updates like this could work for other manufacturers?